Decision 2012: The Candidates and Sustainability

Today the Eastern Seaboard deals with the very real environmental impact of Hurricane Sandy, and our thoughts are with our colleagues and friends there. Such a storm reminds us that human activities are intertwined with Mother Nature, for good and for bad. It’s appropriate that our election blog series culminates with a focus on the environment and sustainability. The sustainability movement underscores the importance of understanding our collective impact on the environment and the strategies for creating long-term solutions with shared benefit for people, profit and the planet. And the decisions that will be made by our next president will impact this movement and our environment overall.

Climate Change

Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have mentioned energy independence and innovation throughout their campaigns, but voters need to dig deeper. According to a Sept. 21 article in BusinessWeek, this has been the hottest and most extreme year for weather, “yet the presidential candidates aren’t talking about it.” Where do they stand on climate change?

President Obama had proposed a bill to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, but it didn’t make it through Congress. But, he’s doubled auto mileage goals and standards and invested in clean energy and renewables. Since September, his campaign speeches have mentioned climate change as an issue he hopes to address.

Gov. Romney has gone on record questioning the science of global warming and says that tightening regulations could affect an already struggling economy. In his time as governor of Massachusetts, he supported clean energy but has since softened his position. (If you’re following other party candidates, you won’t be surprised to hear that Green Party Candidate Jill Stein continues to advocate for new, tougher standards on ozone and Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson wants to end government subsidies for specific energy resources.) Despite the global implications and scientific debate, climate change seems to be taking a back seat to another sustainability push: environmental regulations.

Environmental Regulations

The regulatory discussion about environmental impact is where we see the biggest differences between the leading candidates. Both have called out key industry sectors on their paths to the election:

  • Green Energy Firms: Obama would keep subsidies in place for renewable energy producers. The Obama Administration approved the nation’s first-ever offshore wind project, and is supporting development of the world’s largest wind farm in Oregon. Meanwhile, Romney plans to roll back tax breaks enjoyed by this sector.
  • Other Energy Producers: As my colleague Julie Steininger pointed out, renewable energy is tied closely with agriculture. Both candidates argue for a boost in U.S. energy production to create new jobs. They also agree that increasing energy independence is critical to national security. Neither candidate, however, has emphasized efficiency.
  • Oil and Natural Gas Suppliers: Both candidates have advocated for a reduction in foreign oil imports. Obama supports safely developing domestic natural gas, while Romney’s platform calls for increased access to domestic energy resources (including offshore drilling) and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Romney also supports a larger role for states in controlling local energy supplies. In contrast, Obama has publicly vowed to end government subsidies for oil companies and invest in cleaner sources.
  • Coal Companies: Romney would relax regulations on coal and other fossil fuel producers. Obama supports continued investments in clean coal technology.

In general, Romney supports streamlined permitting and regulatory reform that calls for a cost-benefit analysis for new regulations. The Obama camp is focused on creating American clean energy with a regulatory backdrop of climate change and protecting sensitive lands.

Green Jobs

Predictably, the Green Party says it aims to “create millions of green jobs in areas such as weatherization, recycling, public transportation, worker and community owned cooperatives, and energy-efficient infrastructure,” but it doesn’t lay out a specific plan. Romney and Obama both agree on the importance of training our workforce for jobs of the future. The GOP platform calls for the expansion of “…technical institutions, private training schools, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector…” while Obama in September committed to spend $8 billion for a three-year program to train 2 million workers through partnerships between businesses and community colleges. However, both candidates have shied away from specifically defining any of these opportunities as green jobs.

It’s clear that environmental regulations and sustainability issues are deeply connected to relevant discourse on our business climate, our global competitiveness and our shared future. I’d urge you to explore those connections before heading to the polls next week!

  • Henry R. Post

    Christi,

      Thank you for contrasting the two candidates for President in such a reasonable manner.  The weather events of the past eighteen months alone have spurred new conversations about climate change, hopefully among some who have authority to take definitive action on the sustainability of an entire planet, not just the USA.  Hopefully, storms like Sandy will challenge all of us to take our heads out of the sand and save our earth for our children and grandchildren.